What is a Customer?

Confusion about CRM terminology is exacerbated by confusion over what constitutes a “customer”. Why?

It appears that many businesses are getting confused about the meaning of the word “customer”.

Recently, I travelled on a train and was a “guest” whilst in a hospital I was referred to as a Customer, not a patient.


Surely a Customer is one of these two definitions (from the Oxford Dictionary):

  • a person who buys goods or services from a shop or business:
  • [with adjective] a person of a specified kind with whom one has to deal:

I have observed government departments struggle with this. One example was at a UK Farming Payment Agency paying Agricultural grants and rebates to farmers.
Farmer Giles may be a client with whom the Agency are dealing but he is an applicant (a customer?) yet if Farmer Giles wife called the Agency regarding his affairs, she cannot be a client but an agent of the client? She wasn’t the client but she is not the customer either? And what of those buying something? Neither- both are applying for something and receiving something in return. However, the Agency decided to call them all “customers”. Clear cut?
Not exactly, see my original discussion on the complexities of the Pharmaceutical Industry. CRM software is often based on the premise that a customer has a financial relationship with you. In fact, the customer database tables often were those from financial applications. The trouble now is that customer databases are full of other non trading entities. It is therefore becoming an important “up front” question for organisations to ask “Who and what is a Customer to US?”

The variety of answers across the world explains why CRM means so many different things to different people. I explained my point of view in a previous post.

For those who may be sceptical about this argument, here is a question for you:

Who are the customers for organisations such as:

1. Political Parties

2. Tourism Agencies

3. Car Manufacturers

OK, now ask yourself whether the definition of a customer holds true across all of those examples. This is why each organisation must form its own view of what a customer is.

Author: Nick Davey

Evangelist, Strategist, Leader, Implementor, Author, Speaker and all round nice guy, Nick has built his entire career on improving the management of customers both from a customers perspective "looking in" and from within an organisation "looking out". You might call it Improving the Customer Experience. Many call it CRM aka Customer Relationship Management or, as Nick often says, Constantly Realigning Misconceptions. Nick reiterates that his comments are his own personal comments and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, strategy or views of any previous employer or customer.. He is delighted to be impartial and able to share ideas with open minded and collaborative professionals around the world. Outside of his passion for CRM, Nick pursues other less demanding passions and interests whilst watching as much Sport as his long suffering wife will permit.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Customer Experience Matters®

Connecting Brands, Leaders, Employees, and Customers


CRM Outsiders

Merkado | Technology Marketing Leadership Blog

Creating customer value and business growth


Providing superior customer service from pre-sale to post sale and everywhere in between

Miriam Gomberg

streams of consciousness…reflections and projections


Customer Management: the glenstubbings way!

Business Technology Partner

Your partner in the digital world


Where Technology Meets Social

The Customer Blog

All things Customer: customer-centricity; customer strategy; customer experience; customer relationship management; customer service; relationship marketing...

%d bloggers like this: